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Ed Yeates ReportingThe government has upped the ante, offering a 2-million dollar cash prize this year to the builders of a robot that can complete a 170 mile journey on its own. Just such a machine was running around today in Utah's western desert.
Reps from the government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency want to know if this Utah built machine qualifies as a finalist for its big race. This is the second year DARPA has hung out a carrot, trying to entice private researchers to quickly develop a reliable, robust, robotic machine that moves about without any human intervention.
Troy Takach, Team Juggernaut: "Last year folks tried to build vehicles that would drive over anything. That's not what they want. They want vehicles that can drive around anything."
With clipboards in hand, DARPA watched as Utah's Team Juggernaut, as it's called, stepped aside, letting the modified ATV move on its own, guided only by computerized sensors, cameras, and global positioning satellites. Even for a qualifying run like this, it's not easy. The driverless vehicle has to follow GPS coordinates precisely, steering around obstacles.
DARPA is weeding out finalists for its Grand Challenge Race from among 118 unmanned vehicles. Like this test at Utah Seabase near Grantsville, other machines are running similar obstacle courses around the country. Congress has mandated that one third of all US wheeled military land vehicles must be autonomous, with no driver,by 2015. So two million dollars could be just the tip of the iceberg for the group that wins this race.
Team Juggernaut thinks it has a good chance.
Takach: "The big boys, Lockheed, Boeing, Grumman all have the same problem the government has. They can spend millions of dollars and not get this thing developed. We're going to build a system that's not going to cost a million dollars. It's going to cost 50-thousand."
And for the government, cost is extremely significant in the bigger race. DARPA will announce the top 40 finalists in June. From than number, only twenty five will be selected for the big race.